Climate and Energy Resources for State, Local and Tribal Governments

Smarter, Sustainable Dubuque

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Dubuque, Iowa

Federal Funding: $473,136
Project Timeline: February 2011 – December 2013

Project Summary

Latest Update

Over the past 30 years, Dubuque has faced multiple challenges, including economic hardship and significant unemployment. Dubuque's leaders have identified another challenge on the horizon: the quest for sustainability and the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Dubuque is committed to being a national leader among communities with populations under 200,000 in identifying the best practices for sustainability and GHG emission reduction. Under the Smarter, Sustainable Dubuque (SSD) Initiative, the City helped over 2,000 pilot households reduce GHG emissions by reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and more efficient use of water, electricity, natural gas, and waste. Based on the results of the pilot projects, the City and its partners will launch a community-wide campaign to engage all Dubuque households and businesses.

Pilot households were equipped with advanced electric and water meters as well as radio frequency identification tags and smartphone apps to track their vehicle miles traveled (VMT). Using these tools, the City tracked results against baseline energy consumption profiles and provided each household with a weekly report on electricity and water consumption, and VMT. The City also provided each household with tools and information on how to reduce their carbon footprint.

Using information collected from the pilot households, the City of Dubuque partnered with the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque, the Chamber of Commerce, Dubuque Community School District, and local colleges to conduct a community education campaign and to advance the goal of significant carbon emission reductions in Dubuque. A key component of the outreach campaign was the development and use of a personal and community dashboard, an interactive website where citizens can monitor their energy use and compare it to their neighbors. The campaign used social media to reach a broader audience and highlight best practices.

The Smarter, Sustainable Dubuque project created a model that can be replicated in any community, particularly communities with less than 200,000 residents, where 40% of the United States population resides. The City of Dubuque hopes that its work provides a model that fosters community engagement and education, more energy-efficient ways of operating municipal services and buildings, decreased greenhouse gas emissions, job creation, financial savings, and a higher quality of life for the entire community.

The City of Dubuque worked in partnership with the IBM Watson Research Center and Dubuque 2.0 on the Smarter, Sustainable Dubuque (SSD) initiative. Over the four-year project period, four separate pilots were conducted under the SSD umbrella: Smarter Water (2010), Smarter Electricity (2011), Smarter Travel (2012), and Smarter Health and Wellness (2013). Under the Smarter Travel pilot, 500 participants carried radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to track their use of The Jule Exit public transportation system. Through partnerships with the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) and US DOT, the City hopes to continue using the Smarter Travel model to improve transit systems. Upcoming activities for these pilots include testing different types of engagement with pilot participants and gathering data to measure impact.

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Community Characteristics 

Population:                                 57,696

Area:                                         26 square miles

Government Type:                       City

Community Type:                        Small Urban

Median household income:           $41,879

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Final Results

Cumulative Projected Results   

Annual GHG Reductions

76.7 mt CO2e

536 mt CO2e

Annual Reduction in Vehicle Miles Traveled



Annual Electricity Savings (MWh)


Annual Cost Savings



Annual Water Saved (gallons)


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Lessons Learned

  • The results of the pilot programs suggested that residents fall into one of three categories:
    • 20% High engagement interest: Want more data and less direction.
    • 60% Medium engagement interest: Want more direction and less data.
    • 20% Low interest: Want better defaults, based on data exceptions and anomalies.
  • Recycling rates in a low-income area and a higher-income area were compared, and the initial data suggests that individual households have similar recycling rates in both areas. This suggests that low-income areas have lower overall recycling rates because fewer households are recycling at all, while households that are recycling are doing so in amounts similar to higher-income area households.
  • Effective communication and outreach methods included direct calling, email, e-newsletters, “community cafes,” and social media. Providing incentives and education sessions were also effective methods of volunteer engagement.

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  • Other communities have learned from the Smarter Sustainable Dubuque pilot programs and have started projects in their own communities.
  • The program has also inspired other initiatives within the City, including a DOT grant, redesign of public transit routes, Green Iowa community weatherization, and incorporation of Smarter Water into the K-12 curriculum.
  • All of the SSD pilots are cloud-based, providing ease of replication in other communities where citizen have smart phones and smart electric metering infrastructure.

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Project Websites

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